Loose Pass

Date published: December 24 2014

Welcome to Loose Pass, our weekly dishing up of mince pies, Christmas puddings and festive roasts.

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with spending limits, wise words from evergreens and an upgrade in rugby TV…

It seems immaculate timing that within 48 hours of their CEO virtually demanding that the Premiership salary cap be abolished, Saracens should find themselves apparently at the middle of an investigation into whether they may have breached it. The timing of wing Jack Wilson’s in-season transfer to the Sharks was just as appropriate, two days after the salary cap probe news broke.

Bath are supposedly also under the microscope, although they are keeping significantly more schtum about the whole affair.

Yet they seem a little more confident of beating the probe, having signed on another player since the inquiry was announced and also reminding us after their impressive destruction of Gloucester that they remain decidedly pro-cap and pro-competitive integrity.

However, you’d also be naive not to infer something into Bath’s sudden decision to let Will Genia go to France next season rather than the West of England.

Anyway, back to Saracens, more specifically back to Sarries’ CEO Ed Griffiths, who’s arguments against the salary cap run thus:

1) If the salary cap is left to forbid the required investment, it will kill any hope of growth.

2) Imagine the likes of Arsenal or Manchester City being asked to compete with Barcelona, Bayern (Munich) and Real Madrid under those circumstances. It would never happen, but it happens in rugby.

3) It is time … to ensure a level playing field in Europe, to build the strongest league in world rugby and to let players earn market-related salaries. We must release the handbrake and step on the accelerator.

4) We understand some clubs fear the removal of the salary cap will cause wage inflation, yet, in reality, salaries are already being driven by the French clubs.

I’m not really sure what he is trying to get at, except lamenting his inability to spend more, and fast.

Growth in England is emerging fast in the shape of many a good player from the academies (Sarries included), the absence of which concept the French national mentors have been lamenting hard for a couple of years now, while some Ireland fans are a touch disquieted with the number of thoroughly non-Irish players popping up in emerald green.

Soccer is not yet subject to a cross-border cap, but it is subject to financial fair play rules which mean the clubs do now have to raise the money they spend rather than just crank up the gearing to dangerous levels.

The concept is slowly making its mark. The reason for it? Clubs – such as Chelsea – being backed fleetingly by an impossibly rich person who decides to go elsewhere when all does not run his way and leaves the club in peril.

The Premiership is – I would say – the strongest league at the moment. France has Clermont and Toulon who are sweeping all, and Toulouse remain France’s traditional flagship side but the English record this season has been significantly better than the French overall in Europe.

The Top 14 frequently throws together a plethora of big names in both colour jerseys on the pitch, but the rugby is frequently inferior – I am yet to see a French game this season as good as Saints-Tigers this past weekend.

And whatever is put out on the field, the ridiculousness and frequent less-than-best practice off it (witness the recent Montpellier soap opera, and Dan Leo’s assertion that his move to London Irish ensured him a better shot at the next World Cup than being in the bumbling French club environment did, respectively).

As for the final point in Griffiths’ offensive… that at least has substance. But it is worth remembering that for years, the French had a ‘league of two speeds’, virtually owned by about four teams who would always win if needed, while the rest were left to celebrate hollow victories against those four’s second strings on occasion.

More than one club in France has been driven to ruin trying to keep up with the Martins. Many others now find themselves saddled with vast squads of journeymen – many of those journeymen signed because the good domestic players come at such a premium that it’s simply a case of balancing the books.

The two speeds have moved closer together, but looking at the spending from Toulon and Racing M